A Taste for Sweetness

I can imagine it already. Look. Listen. This is the way it always goes.

It's a grey day in Chinatown. Jeans slung defiantly low around my waist, goes with the scowl, and one hand clenched in denim, one pocket filled by four fingers and a thumb. The waxed paper bag dangles from the other four, slippery-hot and fragrant. Puddles. Gleam like eyes from the sidewalk. Smell of rain, cold and metallic in the back of the mouth, and it's almost sharp enough to touch. To taste. Grey day in Chinatown, and, and -

The street.

The shop.

You.

And, oh, this is the way it always goes.

Round and round and back, we've slipped into this little routine of ours with such ridiculous ease.

Who would've thought?

And we'll go inside and you'll offer me tea and we'll talk. Yes. Mismatched eyes over the rim of a tea-cup, half-shadowed by the dark curtain of your hair. Talk to me. The subject doesn't matter, I'm not interested in the words.

I stopped finding reasonable excuses to visit a long time ago, after all.

You think logic means anything to me now?

I just want to hear your voice. Odd, that. I'm really not sure why I'm here, why I want to hear the hum of your

voice and drink your too-sweet tea and retch on the sickly stench of incense.

You don't calm me at all. Quite the opposite.

You enrage me. Everything about you annoys me. Do you know? Tiny niggling little details that mean nothing but nevertheless make my blood boil and my hands into tight concentrated balls of rage. So why…

Talk to me. Yes. Just like this.

I don't hear the words, but I listen to the sound they make in your mouth. I watch the way your lips curl around them, the crinkling of your eyes, the lift of your chin. You cock your head, sparrow-like, my ears echo with the silvery sound of your laughter.

It's almost a ritual by now. I come to you and I offer you sweets. Like you're a stubborn child needing to be placated, or an obedient one being rewarded. Which are you? I'm not sure. What would you say if I asked you?

You would laugh, probably. And I'd get angry all over again. For no good reason, again.

Let me in, I come bearing gifts. Again. Always. For you. And on the pretence of seeking information, of course. It's almost worth the trouble just to see your eyes widen like that, see the slow, sweet curve of your smile. You're so childish, honestly.

No, I don't want any more tea. It's far too sweet for my taste, haven't I told you? And the incense is making my head pound. I feel dizzy. What do you mean, I haven't been listening? Of course I have. Why else would I be here? Why else…

No, you can keep the rest. It's a gift, after all. No, I'm really not hungry.

…I'm nothing like you, you know. I never liked sugary things, even as a child. I'll take coffee over tea any day, thick and black and bitter, and it'll be washed down with gall and laced with cynicism to boot.

And I always imagined you'd taste of sweetness. But when my lips touched yours, in that single moment of madness before you jerked back with a shocked rustle of silk, I caught a taste of you. And it wasn't what I thought it would be, was nothing like that, and I was almost as shocked as you were.

Well. Not quite.

The tea cup drops from fingers slack with surprise, smashes to its violent end on the blameless carpet. It's as loud as a bomb in the sudden, shaken silence that follows. I get to my feet, avoid your eyes, and step over the dark pool of tea creeping outwards in a steadily widening stain, somehow insidious, accusing.

I don't look at you. I shut my eyes as I collect my jacket from its crumpled heap on the chair. It's the last scrap of privacy I can offer after upsetting the fragile balance between us.

Behind me I know you'll be sitting in dazed disbelief, still frozen in the act of flinching. Naked. Painfully, perfectly vulnerable. I've stolen your illusion of indifference, made you mortal, and now your flawless mask has slipped.

But as I close the door gently behind me I wish I could stop hearing as easily. Block up my ears; sever the delicate nerves coiling there so I won't have to listen to the soft, hurt sounds coming from the next room. My mind interprets them all too easily.

You're crying, aren't you?

Skin on skin. My mouth on yours. No thought, no compassion in it at all. I was too impatient, full of too much doubt and too many warring emotions for tenderness. Regret, of course, comes after. But it's an act in some ways as irrevocable as the breaking of fine white china, and we'll only cut ourselves on the splinters if I stay any longer.

And the broken cup won't mend.

I don't suppose I'll be seeing you again after this. It's probably for the best. For now, I run my tongue over my lips, and imagine I can still taste it. There. A slight trace of saltiness.

You taste of tears.

Who would have thought?